Having returned from an 18-month period playing in Korea Republic, striker and former PFA Executive member Bruce Djite provides an insight into some of the challenges and highs of his K-League experience.

It all happened very quickly. In the midst of pre-season with Adelaide United, the team he had helped to its first Hyundai A-League championship just months earlier, Djite received an offer to join Suwon FC in South Korea’s premier competition, the K-League. The call came on a Friday and two days later he was on a plane to undergo a medical.

“I went during mid season in the K-League so they (Suwon FC) called me on a Friday, I was on a plane by Sunday, did a medical on the Monday, started training on Wednesday and then played my first game for the club on Saturday,” recalls Djite, who has also played with clubs in Turkey and China.

“Then I came back to Australia on Sunday to pack as much as I could then flew back to Suwon on Monday and was back into full training on Wednesday.”

While the speed in which the 30 year old suddenly found himself in a foreign country at a new club seems like a whirlwind, for many players who have plied their trade overseas, their experience is not dissimilar to Djite’s.

In Djite’s case, he had little time to acclimatise as he found himself thrust into action for a Suwon team that was fighting to get out of the relegation zone.

“Because I arrived in the middle of the season, the first month was all about adaptation so I was coming off the bench, getting a feel for the league and my teammates. However, after that initial month I became a regular in the first eleven,” said Djite.

“One thing I think helped me was that I went over with the mentality that I’m coming to them, to their club, to their country so it’s up to me to adapt and I did not expect them to adapt to me. I think from my past experiences I was well prepared for the challenges ahead.”

One of those challenges was initially leaving a young family back in Adelaide. While it was hard being apart from them, Djite knew it came with the industry of professional sport.

“That half season when I first went over, my wife was pregnant with our second child so it was impossible for them to come over. That was very difficult,” recalls Djite.

“I came back for the birth of my daughter and my son was much bigger…three months is a long time in the life of a toddler. He’d started not only talking but constructing proper sentences so it was challenging being away from them and missing some of those milestones.

“During an international break the coach only allowed me to come back to Adelaide for one day for the birth of my daughter which was hard but unfortunately they’re the sort of sacrifices you have to make.”

Having had time to reflect on the whole experience, Djite looks back fondly on his most recent chapter.

“It was a great experience. For my kids and my family when they did move over, being able to experience a different culture, learn how different people live…it was fantastic,” said Djite.

“On the field it has been good…it could have been better but it could always be better.”

“In the first season I arrived the club went down to the second division and the goal was to go straight back up but the team underperformed this year. It was a bit disappointing but overall it was a really positive experience.”

Despite Djite’s largely glowing reflection of his time in Suwon, he admits the team’s on field struggles did create its share of tough times.

Fitting into a new club in a predominantly non-English speaking country can be a daunting prospect in itself, let alone when the club is struggling to get results.

“This year we were in the second division, I was a regular starter but the coach left late in the season, the assistants took over, started experimenting so I was in and out of the team for about a six week period,” said Djite.

“You get those rollercoasters, especially when the team in underperforming.

“As a foreign player expectations are obviously extremely high, as they should be, so you can be in and out of the team but that’s part of football.

“It’s impossible to play exceptionally in every game and at Suwon if you had a poor game you’d be on the bench for the next game.”

“One plus was that I had a lot of study to do for my Bachelor of Business degree that I’m undertaking, so when things aren’t going well on the field, study is a good circuit breaker and I had my family over there which also helped take your mind and pressure off the on field stuff.”

So after his experience would Djite encourage other Australian players to consider the option of joining a club in the K-League? His opinion is two-fold.

“For me personally, if you’re a young Australian player I don’t think South Korea is the best place to go and develop,” said Djite.

“If you look at the history of young Australian players who have gone to play in South Korea, it has shown that the K-League hasn’t been ideal. There are a host of players who have gone there and only lasted a short period of time.

“With the way they train over there, such a rigorous training regime, the way they do things, if you don’t know your body or have that experience of what works and what doesn’t work for you then you’re probably going to run into a lot of problems.

“In the A-League you’ve only got a squad of 23 players and there’s a salary cap, so the number of really elite players is limited.”

“There is none of that over in the K-League. Squads over there might have 32-34 players and the majority of them are at a very good level.

“You may be an important player over there but you’re not critical because of that depth, whereas in the A-League if you’re a critical player, the medical staff and the coaches will do whatever it takes to make sure you’re on the park.”

“In Korea if you’re not 100 per cent fit on Thursday then you won’t play Sunday because there is someone who can do the job as well if not better than you.”

On the flipside, Djite believes for more experienced players, life in the K-League can be fruitful.

“Sasa Ognenovski, Robbie Cornthwaite, Alex Wilkinson and most recently Matt Jurman are some names that spring to mind who have had a successful time of it over there,” said Djite.

“The level of sports science and sports technology, such as using and interpreting GPS data is limited compared with the A-League so I think the key to thriving over there is to know your body and know how to handle high training loads and the cut throat nature of it all, which some guys have done.”

Djite is currently back in Australia weighing up his next move, with his contract at Suwon officially finishing on 31 December 2017. He will spend the next month training and getting his body right as he looks to land his next contract, which he intends to again be with an overseas club for family reasons as much as financial reasons.

“Compared to when I first signed with Adelaide United ten years ago, my priorities are obviously a bit different now that I have kids,” said Djite.

“I’m starting to enrol them in schools so a priority is to make sure they have the best possible life and grow up as resilient global citizens.”

“To do that I think it’s important to live and experience different countries so my next career move will probably be overseas because we’ve got our whole lives to live in Australia and only a short time for the kids to live abroad before they start school. It will give them a good grounding and background and help them in future years.”